Commotion erupted on the Senate floor last night as two prominent Senators got into a verbal stand-off that almost turned physical.
Senators Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri and Antonio Trillanes IV got into an altercation over the Senate proceedings of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) bribery scandal. The case was supposed to be investigated by a Senate committee headed by Trillanes, only for Zubiri to lead a resolution in the chamber to have it under another committee ran by the latter’s party-mate instead.
The move irked Trillanes, who then went to the media to complain about Zubiri’s antics. The former accused the latter of “whitewashing” or deliberately blocking attempts to investigate the BI Scandal, with good reason given that Zubiri and the chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee (which has been given jurisdiction over the case) – Richard Gordon – are both party-mates of President Duterte.
Those comments resulted in Zubiri’s furor, which made him confront Sen. Trillanes on the Senate floor. However, the comment that got the Senator from Bukidnon really riled up was when Trillanes called him a “cheat” amidst their altercation.
That gibe by Trillanes was referring to the fact that Zubiri once stepped down as Senator after it was proven he had benefited from massive voter fraud years ago.
In 2007, Zubiri and now Senate President Koko Pimentel were neck-and-neck vying for the final spot in the Senatorial elections. It took two months before all votes were tallied, and when the result finally came in the Arroyo-aligned Senator from Bukidnon emerged victorious.
The result proved controversial for a plethora of reasons, the most obvious being that then-President Arroyo’s Senatorial line-up was virtually wiped-out with only two (Edgardo Angara and Joker Arroyo) securely in the top 12. The perceived desperation of the administration to have one more ally in the Senate was seen as the reason for the delay of the election results.
It was also suspicious given that the last votes to be counted came from the lawless Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), notorious for vote-rigging and voter fraud which did feature prominently during the 2007 elections.
In a testimony given by former ARMM governor Zaldy Ampatuan he confessed that his father, Andal Ampatuan (who was governor in 2007), met with President Arroyo in 2007 to discuss padding the votes of Arroyo-ally Zubiri in his province. In turn, three opposition candidates would receive zero votes from Maguindanao – which was the case during that election.
In fact, Maguindanao yielded a straight win for all twelve of the administration’s Senatorial candidates. This would not be the first time that the province became generous to the Arroyo administration; in 2004, Arroyo’s victory over rival Fernando Poe Jr. in the presidential elections was also made possible by “voters” from Maguindanao.
For his sake, Zubiri denied knowing of any fraudulent activity during the 2007 elections and claimed he merely benefited from another individual’s doing. That defense is hard to believe, especially given his family’s close ties with the Arroyos.
The suspicious circumstances surrounding his election victory and the limp defense he has to defend himself makes Trillanes’ statements forgivable. You have to wonder: is it really wrong to call Zubiri a ‘cheat’?